Hesperus is Bosphorus

A group blog by philosophers in and from Turkey

Is “to immediately perceive” a split infinitive?

with 10 comments

Stylists and editors really don’t like split infinitives such as “to boldly go”. I’ve been revising a paper on Reid’s account of colour perception and I sometimes use the expression “to immediately perceive”. So, for example, I will talk about “the capacity to immediately perceive” certain qualities.  The editors have suggested that I don’t use “to immediately perceive” as it is a split infinitive.

I’m not sure, however, that “to immediately perceive” is a split infinitive. Here’s my thinking: We talk about immediate perception and indirect perception. I’m not sure that there is such a thing as indirect perception, but in order to deny the fact that there is such a thing as indirect perception, we have to allow the expression “indirect perception” into our language. So I have no problem with the expression. Anyway my worry is that if we think that “to immediately perceive” is a split infinitive, then we should say “to perceive immediately” and “to perceive indirectly”. This would suggest, however, that “perceiving p immediately” and “perceiving p indirectly” are two ways of doing the same thing. And this doesn’t seem right to me. I think these are two quite distinct types of attitudes towards p. So my thought is that there are really two quite distinct verbs here: “to immediately perceive” and “to indirectly perceive”. “Immediately” here is not really functioning as an adverb. We can distinguish between how and what questions. And I think the “immediately” in “to immediately perceive” is part of the answer to a what question, rather than the full answer to a how question? Q: What is he doing? A: He is immediately perceiving a particular quality. As opposed to: Q: How is she perceiving the quality? A: immediately.

So I’d to keep the expression “to immediately perceive”. Any thoughts here? Have I been living abroad for too long and lost my intuitions about what counts as correct English?

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Written by Lucas Thorpe

October 15, 2012 at 12:31 pm

10 Responses

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  1. Hi Lucas, I am not a native speaker of English, but “indirectly perceive” is a non activity/ not-a-possible activity according to your claim (and I agree).. I see the point of your how and what question but how is this different than distinguishing “to colorfully perceive” and “to redly perceive” (A better grammatical and clear example can be found I guess but this was the first thing that came to my mind -colorfully perceiving being the same thing as perceiving and redly perceiving -apart from imposed to red light in a closed room- is a non activity/not-a-possible activity) So there are not two attitutes but there is an attitute and a non attitute I would say and in the case of “perceiving p immediately” and “perceiving p indirectly”, there is only one way of doing one thing: just perceiving (and of course not-perceiving-but that is not doing something)…

    Ozge Ekin

    October 15, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    • Hi Ozge,

      I took my English proficiency UDS exam last weekend. (as part of my promotion application I have to prove I’m proficient in English). The exam took 30 minutes – but I had to sit there for almost two and a half hours – and all I had to pass the time was to read the exam regulations, in Turkish, over and over again. Anyway – one thing that struck me is that that some things, such as asking the invigilators questions during the exam, were ‘yasaktir’ (forbidden). Other things, however, (such as bringing keys, coin, and phones into exams) were ‘kesinlikle yasaktır’. This is hard to translate – I guess a literal translation would be ‘certainly forbidden’, but perhaps a better translation would be “strictly forbidden” [thanks to Zeynep Aydogan for suggesting this translation on facebook]. Which suggests that ‘yasaktir’ has the force of ‘merely forbidden’. And so students did not bring coins or phones or keys into the exam – but a few of them asked questions during the exam. I guess this distinction is hard to translate into English. (And would probably make Kant’s head explode!)

      Anyway the point here is that it seems to me there is a clear difference in meaning in English between “to strictly forbid” and “to forbid strictly”. I think there is a similar difference between “to immediately perceive” and “to perceive immediately”.

      Lucas Thorpe

      October 15, 2012 at 1:45 pm

      • 🙂 yes, it would probably make every German’s head explode

        OK, that has to be some native speaker issue, I cannot see the the difference between “to strictly forbid” and “to forbid strictly” (I googled it, could not find anything useful) Though, I can clearly understand the difference between strictly forbidden and forbidden 🙂 (the consequence would be worse if I broke the strictly forbidden rule)

        Ozge Ekin

        October 15, 2012 at 2:00 pm

        • We can clearly use adjectives to construct compound nouns. For example there is a clear difference between “to happy slap” and “to slap happily”. I can’t think of an obvious example of this being done with an adverb off the top of my head. But I’m sure there are examples. If I think of one I’ll stick it up here.
          The point with the distinction between “strictly forbidding” and “forbidding strictly” is that (grammatically) these are two different types of activity. To forbid strictly is to forbid in a certain type of way. To strictly forbid is to do something else; it is to engage in the activity of strictly-forbidding.

          Lucas Thorpe

          October 15, 2012 at 2:16 pm

        • Here’s an example (I think): “to partly process” is, I think, an infinitive not a split infinitive. “partly-process” is a compound verb. [any linguists out there? Is “compound verb” the right expression here?]
          “to process partly” sounds wrong to me. If I’m right then this is an example of an adverb being used to construct a compound verb in English.

          Lucas Thorpe

          October 15, 2012 at 2:23 pm

  2. I’ve been discussing this with a bunch of people on facebook. And Peter Milne suggested the ‘afore’ in ‘aforementioned’ and, perhaps, the ‘pre’ in ‘predeceased’ as example of adverbs being used to construct compound verbs. I’m not sure whether “pre-” is adverbial. Any thoughts about this?

    Lucas Thorpe

    October 15, 2012 at 2:56 pm

  3. Hi Lucas,
    I think it depends on the context whether you use “to immediately perceive” as a split infinitive or not. For instance, when I talk about perception as a philosophical issue and say that for Bergson we “immediately perceive” things, I use it in the sense that there is not a mediation of reason, concepts etc in the perception of objects. So, here, “to immediately perceive” reponds to “what” question. That is, I immediately perceive “objects”. But, if I say that I immediately perceived his gun, or a sad expression on his face, than I use “to immediately perceive” to indicate “how” I perceived, rather than “what” I perceived. But, when you talk about Reid’s perception, I agree wih you on that “to immediately perceive” is not a split infinitive and it is quite distinct from “to indirectly perceive” which, I think, means to perceive through the mediation of something. So, the latter answers clearly to “how” question.

    And I think “pre-” can be used as a compound verb or as an adverbial. For example “presupposed” seems to me a compound verb rather than an adverb.

    Merve Tapınç

    October 15, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    • Hi Merve,
      I think you misunderstood what I was trying to say about the ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions. I agree that for realists such as Bergson and Reid, WHAT we perceive are objects or qualities. But I was trying to make a different point. The difference between “to perceive immediately” and “to immediately perceive” is that in the first case the ‘immediately’ is being used as an adverb and so it is telling us how we are perceiving. In the second case, I am suggesting that the ‘immediately’ is not being used as an adverb, but to form a particular verb. So by claiming we are exercising the capacity to immediately perceive something we are not saying something about HOW we are perceiving, but instead we are being told about WHAT KIND of activity is being engaged in. Of course, when we exercise the capacity of immediate perception, WHAT is immediately perceived is an object or quality.

      The thought is that there is not one capacity, the capacity to perceive, and that this capacity can be exercised in two ways – either ‘immediately’ or ‘mediately’. When I immediately perceive something I am exercising the capacity of “immediate perception”. And the verb “to immediately-perceive” is the verb we used to refer to the exercise of this capacity. And so, on such an account of perception, “to immediately perceive” is an infinitive, not a split infinitive.

      Lucas Thorpe

      October 15, 2012 at 4:21 pm

  4. My friend Markus Pöchtrager (from the Bogazici linguistics department) points out via email that in his discipline there is a notion of “proper government”, and everyone uses the verb “to properly govern”, NOT “to govern properly”, though he thinks that the first one sounds weird to non-specialists.

    Lucas Thorpe

    October 15, 2012 at 5:38 pm

  5. Thank you for the clarification Lucas. Still, I think there are cases when we use “immediately perceive” as a split-infinitive rather than infinitive, as it may not refer to the capacity of “immediate perception”, but rather “immediately” modifies the verb.

    Merve Tapınç

    October 15, 2012 at 5:49 pm


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